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Main article: Amazon

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Amazon partners with thousands of mom-and-pop stores in India

13:33 | 18 January

Neighborhood stores dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India. They have survived — and thrived, despite — retail giants’ billions of investment in sharpening their algorithms prowess and intense focus on consumer delights. So now, Amazon is beginning to embrace them.

Amazon said on Saturday it has partnered with thousands of neighborhood stores — locally known as kirana stores — across India to use them as delivery points for goods.

The company said it’s a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. “It’s good for customers, and it helps the shop owners earn additional income,” tweeted Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos .

Bezos’ announcement today, as he concludes his fourth India trip, underscores just how vital neighborhood stores remain for shoppers in the country despite the world’s largest e-commerce giant’s major push into the country and an emergence of heavily backed ecosystem of shopping startups.

These mom-and-pop stores offer all kinds of items, pay low wages and little to no rent. Since they are ubiquitous (there are more than 10 million neighborhood stores in India, according to industry estimates), no retail giant can offer a faster delivery. And on top of that, their economics is often better than most. E-commerce is still at an early stage in India, accounting for just 3% of total retail sales, according to industry estimates.

Walmart -owned Flipkart has also arrived at the same conclusion. Last month, it invested $30 million in four-year-old Bangalore-based startup ShadowFax, which works with neighborhood stores in 300 cities to use their real estate to store inventory, and utilize their large network of freelancers for the delivery.

Any alliance with neighborhood stores would come in handy to Amazon India and Flipkart as a new contender readies its e-commerce play. India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani late last month started signing up customers for a soft launch of JioMart in suburban Mumbai.

JioMart is a joint venture between Ambani’s Reliance Jio, which reshaped the country’s telecom market with ultra-cheap mobile data, and his Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retail chain with over 10,000 outlets in 6,500 Indian cities and towns.

The new venture is courting shopkeepers in many parts of India to use a handheld Jio terminal to help them better manage their inventory and order new stock from Reliance’s network of wholesalers. (Amazon, on its part, is slowly deepening its partnership with Future Retail, the second largest retailer in India.)

“Jio and Reliance Retail will launch a unique new commerce platform to empower and enrich our 12 lakh (1.2 million) small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujarat,” Ambani said last year.

Today’s announcement marks what could easily be one of the most remarkable weeks for Amazon. Earlier this week, India’s anti-trust watchdog announced a probe into alleged predatory practices by Amazon India and Flipkart.

It was followed by Bezos’ arrival in India. At an event in New Delhi, he announced the company was investing a fresh $1 billion to its India operations and said it would work to help millions of small merchants come online for the first time.

Not far from the event venue, dozens of merchants assembled to protest the alleged anticompetitive practices of Amazon and Flipkart. On top of that, India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal chimed in on Amazon’s new investment to India, and said the investment was not a big favor to the nation. A day later, he backtracked on his comment.

On Friday, Amazon said it would create a million jobs in India by 2025, and

on Amazon India website and app. Bezos had also sought to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a request that was not met.

 


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Space Angels’ Chad Anderson on entering a new decade in the ‘entrepreneurial space age’

00:35 | 17 January

Space as an investment target is trending upwards in the VC community, but specialist firm Space Angels has been focused on the sector longer than most. The network of angel investors just published its most recent quarterly overview of activity in the space startup industry, revealing that investors put nearly $6 billion in capital into space companies across 2019.

I spoke to Space Angels CEO Chad Anderson about what he’s seen in terms of changes in the industry since Space Angels began publishing this quarterly update in 2017, and about what’s in store for 2020 and beyond as commercial space matures and comes into its own. Informed by data released publicly, SEC filings and investor databases — as well as anonymized and aggregated info from Space Angels’ own due diligence process and portfolio company management — Anderson is among the best-positioned people on either the investment or the operator side to weigh in on the current and future state of the space startup industry.

“2019 was a record year — record number of investments, record number of companies, a record on all these fronts,” Anderson said. “2019 in its own right was a huge year, but then you look at everything that happened over the last decade. We always refer to this last decade as ‘the entrepreneurial space age’ […] and you see everything that’s happened over the last 10 years, you see it all culminating in a record year like this one.”

 


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Amazon’s fresh $1B investment in India is not a big favor, says India trade minister

16:03 | 16 January

India’s trade minister isn’t impressed with Amazon’s new $1 billion investment in the country.

A day after Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos announced that his company is pumping in an additional $1 billion into its India operations, making the total local investment to date to $6.5 billion, the nation’s trade minister Piyush Goyal said Amazon’s investment was not a big favor to India.

“They may have put in a billion dollars but then if they make a loss of a billion dollars every year then they jolly well have to finance that billion dollars,” Goyal said in a conference in New Delhi. “So it’s not as if they are doing a great favor to India when they invest a billion dollars.”

The remark from the Indian minister comes days after India’s antitrust watchdog announced a probe into Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart’s alleged predatory practices.

Bezos, who is in India this week, has sought to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but his request has not been approved yet, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Goyal reiterated that foreign e-commerce players would have to abide by the local law if they want to continue to operate in the nation. He said the watchdog’s allegations were “an area of concern for every Indian.”

More to follow…

 


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How Ring is rethinking privacy and security

00:30 | 10 January

Ring is now a major player when it comes to consumer video doorbells, security cameras — and privacy protection.

Amazon acquired the company and promotes its devices heavily on its e-commerce websites. Ring has even become a cultural phenomenon with viral videos being shared on social networks and the RingTV section on the company’s website.

But that massive success has come with a few growing pains; as Motherboard found out, customers don’t have to use two-factor authentication, which means that anybody could connect to their security camera if they re-use the same password everywhere.

When it comes to privacy, Ring’s Neighbors app has attracted a ton of controversy. Some see it as a libertarian take on neighborhood watch that empowers citizens to monitor their communities using surveillance devices.

Others have questioned partnerships between Ring and local police to help law enforcement authorities request videos from Ring users.

In a wide-ranging interview, Ring founder Jamie Siminoff looked back at the past six months, expressed some regrets and defended his company’s vision. The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.


TechCrunch: Let’s talk about news first. You started mostly focused on security cameras, but you’ve expanded way beyond security cameras. And in particular, I think the light bulb that you introduced is pretty interesting. Do you want to go deeper in this area and go head to head against Phillips Hue for instance?

Jamie Siminoff: We try not to ever look at competition — like the company is going head to head with… we’ve always been a company that has invented around a mission of making neighborhoods safer.

Sometimes, that puts us into a place that would be competing with another company. But we try to look at the problem and then come up with a solution and not look at the market and try to come up with a competitive product.

No one was making — and I still don’t think there’s anyone making — a smart outdoor light bulb. We started doing the floodlight camera and we saw how important light was. We literally saw it through our camera. With motion detection, someone will come over a fence, see the light and jump back over. We literally could see the impact of light.

So you don’t think you would have done it if it wasn’t a light bulb that works outside as well as inside?

For sure. We’ve seen the advantage of linking all the lights around your home. When you walk up on a step light and that goes off, then everything goes off at the same time. It’s helpful for your own security and safety and convenience.

The light bulbs are just an extension of the floodlight. Now again, it can be used indoor because there’s no reason why it can’t be used indoor.

Following Amazon’s acquisition, do you think you have more budget, you can hire more people and you can go faster and release all these products?

It’s not a budget issue. Money was never a constraint. If you had good ideas, you could raise money — I think that’s Silicon Valley. So it’s not money. It’s knowledge and being able to reach a critical mass.

As a consumer electronics company, you need to have specialists in different areas. You can’t just get them with money, you kind of need to have a big enough thing. For example, wireless antennas. We had good wireless antennas. We did the best we thought we could do. But we get into Amazon and they have a group that’s super highly focused on each individual area of that. And we make much better antennas today.

Our reviews are up across the board, our products are more liked by our customers than they were before. Jamie Siminoff

Our reviews are up across the board, our products are more liked by our customers than they were before. To me, that’s a good measure — after Amazon, we have made more products and they’re more beloved by our customers. And I think part of that is that we can tap into resources more efficiently.

And would you say the teams are still very separate?

Amazon is kind of cool. I think it’s why a lot of companies that have been bought by Amazon stay for a long time. Amazon itself is almost an amalgamation of a lot of little startups. Internally, almost everyone is a startup CEO — there’s a lot of autonomy there.

 


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‘Alexa, pay for gas’ command to work at over 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations this year

19:18 | 6 January

Pumping gas is not that difficult, but Amazon thinks the process could be even easier by way of a voice command, spoken aloud when you arrive at the pump: “Alexa, pay for gas.” Today, Amazon, alongside ExxonMobil and Fiserv, announced a new voice experience for pumping gas that will roll out to over 11,500 Exxon and Mobile gas stations across the U.S. later this year.

The ability to pay for gas via Alexa will initially be made available to customers with Alexa-enabled vehicles, Echo Auto, and other Alexa-enabled mobility devices, Amazon says.

When the customer arrives at the pump, they’ll just have to say, “Alexa pay for gas” to get started. Alexa will then confirm the station location and pump number.

The transactions themselves will be processed using Amazon Pay. That uses the same payment information stored in the customer’s Amazon account. Fiserv’s digital commerce technology will help to power the transactions by activating the pump and facilitating the token generation to ensure a secure payment experience.

It’s not clear that the Alexa-enabled experience is significantly faster or easier than inserting your payment card at the pump directly. If anything, it seems a little more involved. But the technology could be useful for some because it allows you to remain in the car until the pump is authorized and ready to go, instead of requiring you to stand outside while the activation process takes place.

That’s a nice perk for cold, winter days — but it could also be appreciated by women and others who are wary of being alone at the pump — like when pumping gas at night or in unfamiliar surroundings, for example, or anywhere they don’t feel comfortable.

“We’re excited to bring new technology and better experiences to the gas station,” said Eric Carmichael, Americas fuels marketing manager at ExxonMobil, in a statement. “We build and seek out technology that will wow our consumers, providing both ease of use and security.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

 


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Amazon’s Fire TV platform now reaches over 40 million users, topping

17:08 | 6 January

Amazon’s Fire TV platform now has over 40 million users, the company announced today. That’s up from the 34 million it claimed in May 2019 and more than the 32.3 million active accounts Roku reported during its Q3 2019 results this past November.

Roku’s “active accounts” figure describes those accounts where users have streamed at least once during the past 30 days, but Roku notes that one Roku account may be shared by multiple members of the same household. However, the same can be said for Fire TV which, like Roku, doesn’t offer an easy interface for switching between different user profiles in order to create a personalized home screen or watch list.

When Fire TV was touting its 34 million users, it had then led Roku by 5 million active accounts. With now 40 million monthly actives, that lead has widened to 7.7 million users. But the two platforms are often very close in terms of user numbers, with Amazon’s lead narrowing when Roku’s earnings are released — as they’ll soon be in early 2020. At that point, Roku will have likely added several million more users to its own figures, keeping the two platforms more neck and neck.

Roku and Fire TV have proven to be fierce competitors, with Roku’s free movies and TV hub, The Roku Channel, spurring Amazon to leverage its IMDb subsidiary to launch a free streaming service, IMDb TV, also a Fire TV feature. Meanwhile, Roku has been developing its own voice control platform to counteract Fire TV’s advantage that comes from including virtual assistant Alexa with its connected TV platform.

And while Roku has benefitted from its reputation as a neutral platform providing access to any streaming service, Amazon has been evolving to better support its rivals’ streaming services, including most recently YouTube, YouTube TV, and Apple TV’s app.

Fire TV’s 40 million monthly actives figure is new today, but other figures about Alexa’s traction that Amazon shared were not. This includes the over 100,000 Alexa-compatible smart home products from more than 9,500 unique brands, the more than 100,000 skills from Alexa developers, and the hundreds of products with Alexa built-in. These were detailed at Amazon’s Alexa event this past fall, now an annual occurrence.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

 


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Amazon-backed Rivian will integrate Alexa into its electric pickup and SUV

17:00 | 6 January

Rivian will integrate Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa into the R1T pickup and R1S SUV, the company’s first electric vehicles that are set to debut at the end of the year.

Rivian said Monday it plans to also extend the Alexa integration to 100,000 electric delivery trucks that Amazon has ordered from the automaker. The electric vans are expected to start delivering packages to customers in 2021.

The integration into the R1T and R1S will give owners access to standard Alexa features such as playing music, placing calls and navigations as well as the ability to control the climate, open and closing the trunk and other vehicle features using their voice.

Rivian said it plans to give Alexa other capabilities designed for its vehicles. For instance, owners will be able to remotely tap into the camera embedded in Rivian pickup truck from Amazon screen-based services like Echo Show and Fire TV to check on whatever gear is stashed there.  The integration will also allow access to certain Alexa features when the vehicle is offline, a decision meant to match up with how these vehicles might be used.

Rivian’s vision is to enable exploration without compromises and provide our owners the best digital experience, no matter where their adventure takes them,” said Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe. “We want this to be the most comprehensive, most seamless Alexa integration in the market.”

The Rivian announcement made ahead of CES 2020 is the latest to illustrate Amazon’s continued push into the automotive world. Lamborghini also announced Monday plans to bring Alexa to its Huracán EVO sports car.

Amazon has been moving into the car for a few years now through the integration of Alexa and car-focused delivery services, as well as its direct investment  Rivian. The e-commerce company also launched its Amazon Key service to let customers give delivery drivers access to their house with the help of a compatible keypad on their door and a smart security camera. But in 2018, that service expanded to the car with its Key by Amazon In-Car delivery service.

GM and Volvo were the first participants in the Key by Amazon In-Car delivery service. Ford joined the in-car delivery service in April 2019.

 


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Fire TV Edition expands to more soundbars, plus cars, cable boxes and more

17:00 | 6 January

Amazon’s Fire TV Edition, the version of Fire TV that now powers over 150 Fire TV Edition smart TVs as a competitor to Roku TV, is expanding to more devices besides just the television. Today, Amazon announced a new Fire TV Edition that’s capable of powering soundbars and being integrated into autos, plus versions designed for operators and certified solution providers.

The company’s ambitions for Fire TV to become a more expansive platform were already known. Amazon this past fall introduced a new Fire TV soundbar and over a dozen new Fire TV Edition products, in order to better compete with Roku which at the time had gained a lead over Amazon in U.S. connected TV market share.

Fire TV’s steady expansion on the international front now continues. Since September 2019, more than 50 Fire TV Edition smart TVs and soundbars have been launched from brands including Grundig, JVC, Onida, and Anker, and from retailers like Best Buy, Dixons and, soon, MediaMarketSaturn. And Best Buy alone has sold “millions” of Insignia and Toshiba Fire TV Edition smart TVs, Amazon claims.

In 2020, Amazon says more brands will launch Fire TV Edition smart TVs in the U.S., Canada, India, the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Mexico, but didn’t announce the brand names involved.

Amazon is also now expanding its lineup of Fire TV Edition-powered soundbars.

This fall, Amazon and Anker had launched the Nebula Soundbar – Fire TV Edition. Today, it’s launching two more: the TCL Alto 8+ Soundbar – Fire TV Edition on Amazon in the U.S. and Canada and the TCL TS8011 Soundbar – Fire TV Edition in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Both will offer support for Dolby Digital Plus for premium, dynamic and immersive sound, Amazon says.

Polk Audio and Tonly are also building soundbar solutions with Fire TV Edition. And later this year, Amazon’s Fire TV soundbar will be upgraded with Dolby Atmos support, device control, HDMI switching, and far-field voice control.

Also being introduced today are distinct versions of Fire TV for automakers, operators, and certified solution providers.

On the auto front, Amazon is partnering with BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) to offer hands-free Alexa, touch screen interfaces and offline playback capabilities to the screens inside your car — meaning you can stream Prime Video, Amazon FreeTime, or even Netflix on the go using the vehicle’s Wi-Fi or LTE connection, a mobile hotspot, or any other internet-connected device.

“Adding Fire TV to future BMW vehicles represents a big step in bringing the best of streamed entertainment to our products. With Amazon’s approach, and with the help of Garmin, we are able to innovate and create a unique and special experience for BMW cars, providing the consistency of content and customer experience that Fire TV provides in the home. We look forward to working closely with Amazon to bring Fire TV to future vehicles,” noted Fathi El-Dwaik, Vice President User Interaction, Business Line My Car and Business Line My Life, BMW Group, in a statement about the integrations.

For operators, television and telco operators will be able to offer Fire TV Edition-powered devices to customers. This follows Amazon’s earlier partnerships with Tata Sky in India and Verizon (TechCrunch’s parent) in the U.S. With the launch of Fire TV Edition for operators, available now in North America, Europe, India, and Japan, companies can choose from a range of solutions to better address their own customer and business needs.

On the operator front, Amazon also announced it’s working with the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) to give its over 750 members the ability to deliver low-cost Fire TV streaming media players directly to their combined 16 million broadband and 8 million video customers.

Finally, Amazon is now customizing Fire TV Edition for ODMs (original device manufacturers — the companies building the hardware that will eventually be rebranded for other companies when sold).

Amazon announced it’s working with Skyworth as an ODM with turnkey solutions for 4K and FHD smart TVs. Starting in India, brands will be able to select from a range of industrial design and price points to bring their smart TVs to market. Meanwhile, for auto partners, Amazon is working with system integrators VOXX Automotive and Garmin.

The cumulative impact of all these expansions will be to give Fire TV a competitive advantage against rival Roku when it comes to establishing worldwide market share for its TV platform. But it additionally serves as means of bringing Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa to a wider user base and in places where Alexa isn’t always available — like the car or your cable TV box, for instance.

Related to this, Amazon also today announced more aftermarket devices with Alexa built-in for the car, and that Echo Auto will launch internationally this year.

“At CES 2017, we announced the first Fire TV Edition smart TV. Now, just three years later, Fire TV Edition has grown into a worldwide program which will include more than 150 Fire TV Edition models across more than ten countries by the end of the year,” said Marc Whitten, Vice President, Amazon Fire TV, in a statement. “The all-new Fire TV Edition provides companies with the services and tools they need to bring Fire TV to more categories and more screens,” he said.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

 


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Ring revamps lighting lineup with solar panels and indoor lightbulb

17:00 | 6 January

Ring is slowly expanding to Philips Hue’s territory by releasing its first traditional connected lightbulb that works both indoor and outdoor. The Amazon-owned company is also revamping outdoor lights with new models that have a solar panel so that you don’t have to recharge the battery.

While Ring is mostly known for its security cameras, the company has been building a portfolio of devices to make your home smarter — or at least more automated.

This year, Ring’s new products focus heavily on lighting products. The company is already selling connected pathlights, steplights, spotlights and floodlights to illuminate your garden like it’s daytime.

But many of those devices are receiving an upgrade today. The Solar Floodlight, Solar Steplight and Solar Pathlight are solar variants of the existing devices. Instead of having to recharge batteries, they all feature a tiny solar panel on top so that you don’t have to babysit their batteries. You can also pair them with motion sensors.

The big new addition is a standard A19 smart lightbulb as well as a PAR38 smart lightbulb. You can use those lightbulbs outside, but they could work particularly well indoor as well. You can group them, control them with Alexa, remotely turn them on and off and adjust the brightness.

All the new lights will be available on April 1. Ring isn’t talking about prices just yet.

Ring is also launching a new device called the Ring Access Controller Pro — it is available today for $300. It works with electronically-controlled gates so that you can open and close gates directly from the Ring app. This way, you can put a Ring doorbell in front of your gate, pushing your visitors further away from your front door…

Ring says it could be particularly convenient for Amazon deliveries as the Ring Access Controller Pro works with Key by Amazon, the feature that lets you authorize home access to delivery persons.

Some privacy news

And then, there’s the elephant in the room — security and privacy. As Motherboard reported, Ring isn’t doing enough when it comes to securing access to user accounts — two-factor authentication isn’t mandatory for instance. And yet, you don’t want a random person to connect to a live video feed of your living room — or worse, your bedroom.

Ring is going to add a new section in its mobile app called Control Center. Users will be able to see and manage mobile, desktop and tablet devices that have recently accessed your account. For instance, you’ll be able to disconnect devices from your account.

The new menu will also show you third-party services that can access your Ring account, pretty much like third-party apps on Facebook or Twitter.

Finally, local police can request videos in some areas using the Neighbors app. That feature has attracted a ton of controversy. Users will be able to opt out of video requests from local police — it’s a baby step, but maybe it’s time to rethink the feature altogether.

Those new features feel a bit rushed as they aren’t available just yet. Ring says that the update should roll out later this month.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

 


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Amazon partners with India’s second largest retailer to sell its goods online

08:14 | 6 January

Amazon is deepening its relationship with India’s second largest retail chain, Future Retail, as the e-commerce giant widens its footprint in one of its key overseas markets.

The two said on Monday that they have entered into a long-term business agreement to expand the reach of Future Retail’s stores through Amazon India marketplace.

As part of the agreement, Amazon India will become the authorized online sales channel for Future Retail stores including Big Bazaar and Foodhall. Additionally, India’s second largest retail chain, which attracts over 350 million footfalls across its network, will list its items on Amazon’s two-hour delivery platform Prime Now, which is currently operational in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad.

The two giants said they have agreed to focus on grocery — a category that Amazon has been exploring for awhile — general merchandize, fashion and apparel, and beauty products.

Future Consumer, which is also a part of Future Retail, has also formed a long-term partnership with Amazon to secure an online distribution through the Amazon India marketplace. Future Consumer offers a wide-range of food, home care, personal care, and beauty products and has built a number of brands such as Tasty Treat for snacks, Voom for fabric care, Dreamery for dairy, Karmiq for dry fruits, Mother Earth for organic staples, Kara for personal care, CleanMate for household cleaning.

Kishore Biyani, Chairman and Managing Director of Future Retail, said, “This arrangement will allow us to build upon each other’s strengths in the physical and digital space so that customers benefit from the best services, products, assortment and price.”

The announcement today comes months after Amazon bought stakes in Future Retail’s Future Coupons and days after India’s largest retail chain, Reliance Retail, began its e-commerce venture.

More to follow…

 


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